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Wedding Breakfasts: The Complete Guide

Author: Hollie Bond

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Confused by this wedding day term and no idea when exactly you’re meant to be having the wedding breakfast? We answer all your burning big day food related questions…

The wedding world is full of traditions and terms you’ll not have heard of before, but one of the strangest has to be that the main meal of the wedding day is called the wedding breakfast. You’re not alone if when you first heard your caterer talk about the wedding breakfast you thought you and your guest would be tucking into scrambled eggs and bacon. However, while you’ll definitely want to have breakfast on your wedding day to give you energy for the excitement ahead, the actual ‘wedding breakfast’ won’t take place until much later in the day.

Simply put, the wedding breakfast is the main meal that you serve to your guests after the ceremony and before the wedding speeches and evening party. It usually takes place in the afternoon as most wedding ceremonies will happen late morning or early afternoon. If you’re getting married late in the day your wedding breakfast might even take place in the evening as late as your usual dinner.

Traditionally wedding breakfasts are made up of a three-course (or more) sit down meal, however, these days there are many different ways to serve your wedding breakfast – from a buffet and long tables with sharing platters to food trucks at a festival style wedding and even bowl food (think canapés but much larger served while you’re mingling).

Why Is It Called a Wedding Breakfast?

Wedding Breakfasts: The Complete Guide Firsthand Photography Kelham House 1

If it’s served as a lunch or dinner then you’re probably wondering why on earth the main meal of your day is called a wedding breakfast. The answer goes back to the 17th century when the wedding ceremony traditionally took place after mass. As people would fast before mass, the meal after the ceremony was the first food that would be consumer on the wedding day – so the bride and groom and their guests were literally breaking their fast. In modern times you could think of it in similar terms – although you’ll have had your usual breakfast on the big day, the wedding breakfast is the first meal you’ll share together as a newly married couple after the ceremony.

What Time Is a Wedding Breakfast?

Wedding Breakfasts: The Complete Guide Intimate wedding breakfast room.jpg 2

You can hold your wedding breakfast at whatever time works for your wedding, but typically wedding breakfasts take place a couple of hours after the wedding ceremony. So if you are tying the knot at midday for example you’ll probably want to serve your wedding breakfast at around 2.30pm. The time between the end of the wedding ceremony and the start of the wedding breakfast is called the pre-reception drinks and often canapés and cocktails are served to keep guests busy and stop them getting hungry while you’re having your professional photography with the wedding party. Remember hungry guests won’t be happy guests, so when it comes to wedding budgeting allow plenty of money for both the wedding breakfast and the canapés beforehand.

What Do You Eat For a Wedding Breakfast?

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Again, this is entirely up to you and the style of wedding you’re hosting. If you’re sticking to tradition then you’ll want to ask your caterers to provide a three course sit down meal consisting of classic British dishes like posh salads or fish to start; meat with beautifully done potatoes and veg for main and then an elegant dessert to finish. You’ll want to ensure there’s a vegetarian or vegan option too for any guests who don’t eat meat and it’s important to ask your guests if they have any allergies or special dietary requirements well in advance of your special day. You may want to look to other countries for inspiration though – perhaps the countries you’re from or maybe you both just love Italian, Indian, French, Chinese… food and want it as part of your special day.

A three-course sit down meal might not work with the style or running order of your day though, so don’t feel like you have to stick to this format just because it’s a wedding. If you’re hosting a festival style wedding you might want to have some food trucks like pizza vans and a hog roast. Or perhaps you’re having a more relaxed destination wedding with long trestle tables that would lend themselves perfectly to large platters or charcuterie, breads and crudités. You could always keep things nice and budget friendly and ask your caterers to serve up curries or a large one pot dish that everyone can help themselves to. For a vintage affair or a smaller celebration an afternoon tea can be a lovely idea too.

Remember the sort of wedding breakfast food you can serve very much depends on the venue you’ve chosen. Some venues come with in-house caterers who will have sample set menus for you to choose from and may not be able to accommodate anything too unusual. Before you book a whole host of street vans check with your venue whether it’s allowed within your venue hire contract and if they have room on site.

What Do You Drink At a Wedding Breakfast?

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At the drinks reception before your wedding breakfast, your friends and family will probably already have had cocktails, champagne, beer, ale or something soft and fruity. So when it comes to the main meal on your special day it’s good to keep the drinks a bit simpler and make sure they’re in keeping with the food you’re serving. Wine works nicely with most wedding breakfasts, especially traditional sit down meals. However, if you’re having an afternoon tea you might want to continue with bubbly, and something like a hog roast or street food might be better paired with craft ale or beer.

What Are Some Alternatives To a Wedding Breakfast?

a takeaway pizza for a virtual hen do - for better for worse

As always, weddings don’t have to follow traditions just because that’s what most newly married couples do. If you want to provide catering that’s completely original and unique then the only thing stopping you is your imagination and of course finding a caterer who’s happy to get on board with your ideas. We’ve heard of many cool alternatives to wedding breakfasts including a bride and groom who cooked and served their own food on the big day (not one for the faint hearted!). You could also serve sourdough pizzas on wooden platters, stacks of sweet and savoury pancakes, huge pans of paella, a feast of smoke house meats, gourmet bangers and mash, different flavour pies, burgers, or seafood platters.

Where Does a Wedding Breakfast Take Place?

Oaks farm Wedding Venue

A traditional wedding breakfast usually takes place in your reception venue’s main room so there’s plenty of space for all your friends and family to sit down and enjoy this first meal together. As with everything to do with a wedding breakfast though there’s plenty go flexibility to put your own stamp on this. If you’re having a summer or destination wedding, you might want to set your tables up outside (always have a rainy day plan B though), making sure there’s enough shade from the sun too. Depending on the size of your guest list you may have the choice of several different inside spaces at your venue to choose from too, so be sure to ask your caterer and event coordinator for all the options.

Have fun with the seating plan too. You might want to keep things traditional with a top table and then your guests seated at other tables of eight or two perhaps. However, you can do away with the top table and have everyone sat at long trestle tables for a more relaxed vibe. We’ve even seen super romantic sweetheart tables just for the bride and groom so you can sit together and soak up the amazing feeling of being newly married.

When it comes to planning your wedding breakfast and reception, don’t forget to think about entertainment too. You might want some live music or a simple playlist of your favourite love songs to provide the perfect ambience.

How Long Does a Wedding Breakfast Last?

Wedding Breakfasts: The Complete Guide Park Farm Hotel Food 5

If you’re opting for the classic sit down meal for your wedding breakfast then you’ll want to allow around two to three hours for everything to take place – from guests sitting down and welcoming the bride and groom, to all the courses being served and the speeches and toasts being made. Sticking to your schedule is really important if you’re having evening guests as you’ll not want them waiting outside while you finish the wedding breakfast.


Written by

Hollie Bond

Hollie is a lifestyle journalist with over ten years’ experience working in the wedding industry as Lifestyle Editor for You & Your Wedding magazine Also a Regional Editor for Muddy Stilettos, Hollie has written for Square Meal magazine, Family History Monthly, BBC History magazine and Homes & Antiques. In her spare time you can find Hollie in a dance studio practising ballet…

Learn more about Hollie Bond